In a relatively short amount of time, the University of Colorado lacrosse coach Ann Elliott has built a team capable of competing against some of the best programs in the nation.
Yet the Buffs still are figuring out how to finish the job against such teams, a lesson CU learned again on Friday as seven-time national champion Northwestern pulled away late to hand CU an 11-6 defeat. It was the second straight season the Buffs have suffered a loss at Northwestern, where Elliott starred as a player and later served on the coaching staff before taking over the new program at CU three years ago.
The Buffs fell to 6-2, with the two losses occurring on the road against national powers from Notre Dame and Northwestern. CU will face another stern road test Sunday at Michigan (11 a.m. MDT).
"We came out here to compete and to win, and we fell short," Elliott said. "I think Northwestern was the better team for 60 minutes. We have to learn and we have to get better. In the second half we responded. We knew we were going to have to claw our way back in the game and I felt we fought for 20 minutes and we played the Colorado lacrosse I know we're capable of. But 20 minutes isn't going to beat ranked teams. You have to play 60 minutes.
"Our goal is to compete at this level, not to keep getting close."
Ranked No. 7 in the national coaches poll and 15th by Inside Lacrosse, Northwestern scored twice late in the first half to take a 7-4 lead into the break.
The Buffs did indeed claw their way back into the match, netting a goal from Katie Macleay early in the second half and pulling within a goal on Darby Kiernan's second goal of the game with 8 minutes, 20 seconds remaining.
Northwestern, though, controlled the possession down the stretch and was able to take advantage of a Buffs team pressing forward in search of a tying goal, scoring four unanswered goals over the final 5:06 to pull away.
"We kind of struggled getting the draw in the last five minutes," said junior Marie Moore, one of five goal-scorers for the Buffs. "We tried to get the ball back and unfortunately they dominated more. But I think it's really important for us to play teams like this. We fought hard through and through and you learn just how important every play is."
Next up for the Buffs is a Sunday game at Michigan, where CU prevailed 14-13 in double overtime a year ago. The Wolverines are just 5-5 overall but lost by just one goal earlier this season at Florida, a team now ranked second in both national polls.
"(Michigan) plays extremely hard. We know that from going into the Big House last year," Elliott said. "We know it's going to be a competitive game. They're a top team and they're strong offensively. We're going to be focused on having a strong start on Sunday."
Northwestern 11, Colorado 6
At NorthwesternColorado (6-2) 4 2 — 6 Northwestern (4-4) 7 4 — 11
Goals — Colorado: Kiernan 2, Castagnola, Fusco, Macleay, Moore; Northwestern: Lasota 3, Craig 2, Ingrilli, Fredericks, Wessels, Dunbar, Esposito, Stroup.
Assists — Colorado: Macleay 2, Cox; Northwestern: Esposito 2, Craig, Fredericks.
Goalies (Min-Goals allowed-Saves) — Northwestern: Weisse (60-6-10); Colorado: Soenksen (60-11-7).